Leaders' Personalities and the Outcomes of Democratic Elections

By Anthony King | Go to book overview

6 Prime Ministerial Contenders in Canada

Richard Johnston

Are Canadian elections peculiarly vulnerable to leader effects? That they are is a contention dating back at least to André Siegfried's remarkable early study and seems to be a stylized fact of recent research. 1 It is not hard to outline a case as to why this might be so. But the case is not clearly about leaders' personalities. And the evidence for it is often weak, open to rival interpretations, or not on the main issue. This chapter tries to right the balance, at least for elections since 1988. 2

It begins by outlining the specifically Canadian arguments for taking leadership seriously and the evidence said to back them. The arguments turn out to refer mainly to “indirect” effects in the sense used by Anthony King in Chapter 1 . It treats leaders as if they are embodied preferences, so to speak. The actual evidence is largely silent on the content—personality or otherwise—of Canadians' leader judgments, at least so far as those judgments are linked to the vote. Likewise, most accounts control for competing explanations weakly, if at all. And none considers personality for its net, election-day effect.

Working through each argument also reveals that each is highly contingent. In general, they apply more to certain parties than others, more to big parties than to small ones, more to catch-all parties than to programmatic ones. They also seem to apply more to periods of flux and to new parties than to stable periods and old parties. Some of these contingencies may be contradictory, so sorting out their empirical implications for a small number of cases is not straightforward.

Filling the gaps requires an account of the personality factors worth taking seriously. It also requires a basic estimation strategy, which sets leader

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